Friday, April 28, 2006

Book Excerpt



All surrender to beauty willingly and to power unwillingly.  -   Hazrat Inayat Khan

If thou desire the presence, union with God Most High, from him be not absent; when thou visitest thy Beloved, abandon the world and let it go.  -  Hafiz

The word “surrender” in English has very precise connotations, none of them warm and cuddly.  It evokes images of domination by a superior force, of being compelled to do something we’d rather not do.  That’s in English.  Other languages, I understand, don’t have the same problem.  A Japanese friend tells me her language has two words for surrender which are very different in connotation, one meaning what the English word means and the other denoting “the acceptance of love’s enfoldment.”   Probably other Asian languages make the same distinction.  But the connotations in English are the only ones I know, and they’ve always sent slight shivers up my spine.
Maybe the concept of surrender is an easy one for you.    If so, I applaud you for your spiritual maturity.  As for me, for a long time, whenever I heard people in Sufi circles talk about surrender— surrender to the beloved, for example—my immediate reaction was: “There’s no way I’m going to do this thing that I don’t even understand!”  Admittedly, the phrase “surrender to the beloved” has a poetic ring to it, but to me it always seemed to imply that you were handing power over to whomever this beloved character was.
And, in fact, that’s exactly what it does imply.  But there are certain words and phrases that mean one thing in ordinary parlance and yet resound with a whole other layer of meaning when they’re used in a mystical sense. “Surrender to the beloved” is one of these.   Certainly, surrender to the beloved has the meaning we customarily assign it—I mean the one that sends shivers up my spine.  But in the language of Sufism that phrase resonates with a mystical meaning that transports us to regions far beyond the mind.

In earlier chapters, I alluded to a “place of no thought,” one that Pir Vilayat calls the “awakening beyond life.”  My personal experience of this place is limited, and I’m reluctant to describe something I’m not completely familiar with.  But here goes, and in what follows I rely heavily on what the Sufi metaphysicians have said through the ages; in other words, I won’t rely on my own understanding, but will try to provide you with the distilled wisdom of others.
We‘ve tried to compensate for the harsh undertones of the word “surrender” in English by creating the phrase “willing surrender,” which usually refers to a love relationship (though even here, as my wife points out,  we usually mean the surrender of a woman’s will to the supposedly more powerful, more  magnetic, will of the  man).   However, in this chapter I’m talking about surrender in the context of spirituality or religion, and in this context we generally mean willing surrender.  Even here, though, it seems to imply the surrendering of our own puny human will to the all-powerful will of the Creator.
For the Sufi, the word “surrender” has a totally different meaning.  Sufism maintains that the human being experiences two completely different but mutually dependent states of being.  There is several ways to look at it but the most common within Sufism is to examine this duality from the point of view of Wahdat Al Wujud—the Unity of Existence.
Wahdat Al Wujud is a specific condition, or more accurately lack of condition, wherein all created things are equidistant from the source and have no existence in and of themselves, they have only the potential for self-expression. Selfness or individuation is irrelevant in this state. To experience Wahdat Al Wujud, you must go beyond the state of reason, the state of regarding reality as discreet bits of information, and merge with the void of timeless nothingness wherein all things have their source and nothing has separate value.
Follow all that?  Good!  This is the experience of ultimate unity that the mystics, just as I have, continually fail to adequately describe.  Pir Vilayat says of this state that it comes before you realize it and is gone before you know it has come.  Other Sufis describe the state as a place of no thing, or The Blackness.  Everyone seems to agree that Wahdat Al Wujud is definitely not out there, but in here, in our being, and that we attain it by diving within, not by searching without.  It’s a difficult state to describe because we are constantly forced to fall back on the vocabulary of the everyday world to describe it, and Wahdat Al Wujud is beyond any words that are available to us in our everyday language describing discreet impressions.  
Sufis get around the difficulty of describing Wahdat Al Wujud by resorting to metaphor.  The most common metaphor they use is that of the ocean and waves.  In our ordinary conscious state, they explain, we normally perceive the waves; we are entirely ignorant of the ocean that is the source and support of the waves.  These waves, even while we perceive them as discreet objects, are not really separable from the ocean. But in our preoccupation with the shape, the size, the color, the emotional content, and so on of the waves, we completely miss seeing the ocean.
If, by dint of spiritual practices and meditation, we are able to perceive the ocean and merge with it, however slightly, then the waves will recede from our sphere of attention and the ocean will become all.   On the face of it, this may seem like a desirable state, and it is—except that when we are one with the ocean we can’t interact with the waves; we can’t get on with the ordinary business of living.  To interact with the waves effectively, we have to give them most of our attention.  This isn’t hard when we’re not aware of the ocean’s existence; then, only the waves are real.  But once we notice that the ocean exists, things are never the same again.


Suriya said...

This is a good explanation of surrender and I like the explanation of when one realises the sea one cannot at the same time interact with the waves. I think this is a stage which also passes

Sarala said...

My kung fu teacher, a man who often mispronounced words or substituted similar words in error, was always saying "submit!" I suspected the real directive was "surrender." And wished he would understand the distinction and say "surrender." Because submission had all of those negative connotations for me. But surrender meant to let go of fears, tension, self judgement, ego. Surrender is that moment just before I fall asleep, when I feel as tho the mattress is absorbing me. Surrender is a few minutes into a massage or cranial sacral therapy, when I find myself inside watching the work being done on the outside, and when in tai chi I find IT is doing ME. Surrender is that moment with a friend or loved one when I first realize I don't need to be anything other than myself for this person. Surrender, I welcome it. Maybe I'm simplifying it too much?
I really like Pir Vilayat's statement that "it comes before you realize it and is gone before you know it has come. " Meditation experiences are often like that for me, and for someone who is used to being the creator of my own life, that is frustrating indeed. :-)